Ancient astronomical device reveals ties between Muslims, Jews in medieval Europe

Ancient astronomical device reveals ties between Muslims, Jews in medieval Europe
A file photo of an astrolabe from the Ottoman period displayed the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology at University College London (AFP)
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Updated 04 March 2024
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Ancient astronomical device reveals ties between Muslims, Jews in medieval Europe

Ancient astronomical device reveals ties between Muslims, Jews in medieval Europe
  • Astrolabe is believed to have been produced in 11th-century Al-Andalus
  • Historian discovers hidden Arabic, Hebrew, Western etchings after chance online encounter

London: A reappraisal of an ancient astronomical device in Italy has sparked new interest in the medieval interaction between Muslim and Jewish scientists, The Times reported on Monday.

The astrolabe, an instrument once used by astronomers to measure time and distance based on the position of stars, has been on display at a museum in Verona for decades.

But a historian’s chance online encounter with the device, long thought to be a fake, has opened new theories about social and scientific interactions between the Islamic and Jewish faiths in medieval Europe.

Federica Gigante from Cambridge University came across an image of the astrolabe in an online post, and traveled to the museum to investigate the object.

The device is believed to have been produced in Al-Andalus, the Muslim-ruled kingdom of the Iberian Peninsula that encompassed much of modern-day Spain and Portugal.

At the museum, Gigante held the astrolabe in the sunlight and discovered a series of hidden Arabic, Hebrew and modern Western etchings.

She said: “The museum didn’t know what it was and thought it might be fake. It’s now the single most important object in their collection.”

The device is said to be from 11th-century Toledo, during a period known as the Convivencia, or Coexistence, when members of all three Abrahamic faiths lived in relative harmony.

The first markings on the astrolabe are in Arabic and denote the times of Muslim prayers in Toledo and Cordoba.

A brass plate later added to the device allowed the user of the astrolabe to determine prayer times in North Africa.

Further Arabic etchings contain two Jewish names, suggesting that the device was later used by Sephardic Arabic-speaking communities in Al-Andalus.

Hebrew text is also inscribed on the astrolabe, implying that “at a certain point the object left Spain or North Africa and circulated among the Jewish diaspora in Italy,” Gigante said.

Further Hebrew etchings translate the Arabic terms for the astrological signs Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces and Aries.

Gigante believes that the astrolabe may have reached Italy in the 12th century. Once in medieval Verona, Western numerals are believed to have been added to the device by a Latin or Italian speaker.

A 17th-century Veronese nobleman, Ludovico Moscardo, is thought to have obtained the astrolabe, before it was passed to the prominent aristocratic Miniscalschi family which, in 1990, founded the museum where the device remains today.

Gigante said: “The Verona astrolabe stands out, attesting to the contacts and exchanges between Arabs, Jews and Europeans in the medieval and early modern periods.”


Recipes for success: Chef Lorenzo Buccarini offers advice and a pasta and caviar recipe 

Recipes for success: Chef Lorenzo Buccarini offers advice and a pasta and caviar recipe 
Updated 26 sec ago
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Recipes for success: Chef Lorenzo Buccarini offers advice and a pasta and caviar recipe 

Recipes for success: Chef Lorenzo Buccarini offers advice and a pasta and caviar recipe 

DUBAI: “I discovered my passion for cooking at a young age, being drawn to the sights and smells from my family’s kitchen,” Zenon Dubai’s executive chef Lorenzo Buccarini tells Arab News. “My earliest memory of cooking is helping my grandmother prepare lasagna. Those moments ignited a lifelong love affair with the culinary arts.”. 

Zenon, located at Kempinski Central Avenue in the heart of Downtown Dubai, offers Mediterranean and Asian cuisine. 

“Working with Zenon Dubai has been an enriching experience filled with creativity and collaboration, allowing me to push boundaries,” said Buccarini. 

(Supplied)

From the vibrant culinary scene of London in 2012 to Istanbul in 2014, Bali in 2016, and Morocco in 2018, Buccarini has dabbled in an array of cuisines over the years. Here, he discusses his go-to dish, favorite cuisine and most challenging dish to prepare. 

Q: When you started out, what was the most common mistake you made? 

A: Underestimating the importance of proper seasoning. Achieving the perfect balance of flavors is essential in every dish, and mastering seasoning techniques was a valuable lesson early in my career. 

What’s your top tip for amateur chefs? 

Invest in quality ingredients and don’t be afraid to experiment. Additionally, learn fundamental cooking techniques such as knife skills and proper seasoning, as they form the foundation of any great dish. 

What one ingredient can instantly improve any dish? 

Fresh herbs — whether it’s parsley, basil, cilantro, or thyme, incorporating fresh herbs adds depth and complexity to your cooking. They elevate the flavor of any dish. 

When you go out to eat, do you find yourself critiquing the food?  

Naturally, as a chef, I pay attention to the details if I’m dining out. 

What’s the most common issue that you find in other restaurants? 

Something I often notice is inconsistency in execution — whether it’s undercooked proteins, over-seasoned dishes, or lackluster presentation. Consistency is key to delivering memorable dining experiences. 

And what’s your favorite cuisine when you go out? 

I do enjoy exploring different cuisines, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would have to be classic Italian cuisine. There’s something inherently comforting and soul-satisfying about dishes like homemade pasta or a perfectly cooked risotto that never fails to delight the palate. 

What’s your go-to dish if you have to cook something quickly at home? 

Spaghetti aglio e olio. It’s a simple yet flavorful pasta dish made with garlic, olive oil, chili flakes, and parsley. It’s quick to prepare and showcases the beauty of minimalistic Italian cooking. 

What customer behavior most annoys you? 

It can be frustrating when customers request significant modifications to a dish without considering the integrity of the recipe. While accommodating dietary restrictions is important, excessive alterations can compromise the intended flavors and balance of the dish. 

What’s your favorite dish to cook? 

One of them is osso buco. It’s a classic Italian dish made with braised veal shanks, aromatic vegetables, and a rich tomato-based sauce. The slow cooking process allows the flavors to meld together beautifully, resulting in a dish that’s hearty, flavorful, and deeply satisfying. 

What’s the most difficult dish for you to get right? 

For me, mastering the perfect risotto has always been a challenge. Achieving the ideal balance of creaminess and texture while ensuring the rice is cooked to perfection requires precision and attention to detail. It’s a dish that demands patience and practice to get just right. 

As a head chef, what are you like? Are you a disciplinarian? Or are you more laidback? 

I try to maintain a balance between discipline and approachability. I do set high standards for my team, and I expect professionalism in the kitchen, but I believe in fostering a supportive and collaborative environment. Effective communication and mutual respect are essential for success in any kitchen. 

Chef Lorenzo’s pasta, cream reduction and caviar 

INGREDIENTS 

For the cream reduction: 1L double cream; 500g dried porcini; 1L water 

For the fresh pasta (can be substituted for store-bought pasta): 600g semolina flour; 1400g 00 flour; 8 fresh eggs; 300g water 

INSTRUCTIONS 

1. To reduce the cream, add it to a pan and gradually reduce the heat to a slow boil, stirring frequently. As the water boils off, the cream will be reduced. You want to reduce it by half. Then place the pan to one side. 

2. For mushroom stock, add the dried porcini to a pan with the water and simmer for one hour. Strain immediately. Reduce the stock by ¾. 

3. For the pasta, mix all ingredients together to make a dough. Put in the fridge for one hour. Remove from the fridge and shape it as you like (here at the restaurant we do rigatoni). You can just use standard, store-bought pasta too.  

4. Cook the pasta in boiling water for five or six minutes (or as instructed for store-bought pasta), then drain. 

5. Put 250g of the cream reduction and 20g of reduced mushrooms into a hot shallow pan. Add a pinch of salt. Add the pasta to the sauce. Stir. Add a little parmesan and top with caviar.


REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘Crashing Eid’

REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘Crashing Eid’
Updated 19 April 2024
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REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘Crashing Eid’

REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘Crashing Eid’

Shying away from the traditional, comedy television show “Crashing Eid” presents quite a progressive viewpoint — but certainly not an uncommon one.

The four-episode series follows the story of Razan, an independent young Saudi woman who fled her old life and built a new one in London along with her teenage daughter Lamar — only to find herself in love with a Pakistani Brit, Sameer.

The show opens with a surprise spin as Razan takes it upon herself to initiate a proposal to Sameer, who she has known for two years. She and her daughter then plan to take a short trip back to hometown Jeddah during Ramadan, without her family knowing that she has no plans to move back home — or that she is engaged.

Sameer decides to return the surprise by showing up to her family’s home, only to be met by Razan’s father, who mistakes him for a maintenance worker. This spurs the show into a flurry of misunderstandings and awkward interactions that surface some rather crucial unresolved family issues and traumas.

As Saudi has become more global in its population, in many ways including international marriages, the issues in “Crashing Eid” have become more vital to discuss than ever.

Rather than focusing on the difficulties that come with marrying a foreigner, such as lengthy legal procedures and official marriage approvals, the show hones in on societal acceptance. The aspects of honor and locality of marriage are brought to the surface.

The show also uses the main plot to dig up some underlying issues prevalent in any society, not just in Saudi Arabia. Through Razan’s homecoming, she is forced to revisit the reality of her previous marriage to Lamar’s father, who had been physically abusive. Choosing to leave him and start a new life abroad, she is met with societal condemnation and victim blaming.

While Razan’s brother Sofyan battles divorce and child custody issues, the family reveals the challenges of generational gaps. It also demonstrates the common shift to the globalization of younger generations and the tight hold on traditions within older ones.

The show has a unique way of making difficult or rather taboo topics palatable for a general Saudi audience. It sets the table for conversation, at the very least.

Sure, some of the acting seemed fairly novel, reminiscent of early 2000s sitcoms sans the laugh track, and the show also had a peculiar style of direction and editing.

But certainly, “Crashing Eid” must be applauded for its bold statements, proving that it is not afraid to rock the boat for the chance to tell authentic Saudi stories. For anyone looking to get a deeper sense into the modern-day Saudi household, the show is a must-watch.


Tunnel, fortification wall unearthed by archaeologists in Jeddah

Tunnel, fortification wall unearthed by archaeologists in Jeddah
Updated 18 April 2024
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Tunnel, fortification wall unearthed by archaeologists in Jeddah

Tunnel, fortification wall unearthed by archaeologists in Jeddah
  • Findings linked to expansion of city’s defenses in 18th and 19th centuries
  • New evidence of human settlement discovered in Umm Jirsan cave in Madinah

RIYADH: A series of archaeological discoveries in Jeddah and Madinah were revealed on Thursday by the Historic Jeddah Program and the Saudi Heritage Commission.

The finding of new evidence of human settlement in Umm Jirsan Cave, located in Madinah’s Harrat Khaybar, was announced by the commission, and the remnants of an ancient underground tunnel and a fortified wall, which once encircled the city, were announced by the program as part of the inaugural phase of Jeddah’s Archaeology Project.

Situated in the northern sector of historic Jeddah, adjacent to Al-Kidwa Square and in close proximity to Al-Bayaa Square, these historical structures date back several centuries.

Some estimations put Jeddah becoming a fortified city during the late 10th to early 11th century, but laboratory analyses suggest that the new finds belong to a later phase of fortification, likely constructed during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Archaeological excavations revealed that by the mid-19th century, the tunnel had become unusable and was quickly filled with sand. However, the wall remained standing until 1947, and some parts of the tunnel’s supporting wall remained intact up to a height of three meters.

Imported European ceramics dating back to the 19th century were also found, highlighting the historic commercial connections of Jeddah. Additionally, a pottery fragment dating back to the 9th century was discovered in Al-Kidwa Square.

These findings are part of a broader collection of archaeological discoveries announced by the Historic Jeddah Program as outcomes of the first phase of its Archaeology Project — a collaborative effort that involves specialized national teams, Saudi experts from the Heritage Commission, and foreign archaeologists.

Their combined expertise has revealed a trove of 25,000 artifacts across four sites, marking a significant development in understanding the cultural evolution of historic Jeddah.

In Madinah, the Heritage Commission announced the discovery of new evidence of human settlement in Umm Jirsan Cave following research conducted by its archaeologists in cooperation with King Saud University, Germany’s Max Planck Institute and Saudi Arabia’s Geological Survey, as part of the Green Arabian Peninsula Project, which focuses on multidisciplinary field research.

It is the Kingdom’s first study that looks into archeological research inside caves, and involved archeological surveys and excavations in several parts of the cave, revealing evidence dating back to the Neolithic period.

The oldest piece of evidence dates back to between 7,000 to 10,000 years ago, encompassing the Copper and Bronze Age periods.

The study of the cave proved that it has been utilized by pastoral groups.

The artifacts discovered include wood, fabric, and some stone tools, in addition to rock art facades depicting scenes of grazing goats, sheep, cows and dogs, as well as hunting activities with different types of wild animals.

The commission noted that the scientific discoveries represent evidence of human settlement in the cave, and a great number of animal bones, including those of striped hyenas, camels, horses, deer, caribou, goats, cows, and wild and domestic donkeys were also identified.

The analysis of human skeletal remains using radioactive isotopes revealed that ancient humans relied on a predominantly carnivorous diet but that, over time, plants were introduced, suggesting the emergence of agriculture.


Saudi Cinema Encyclopedia prints first batch of film books

Saudi Cinema Encyclopedia prints first batch of film books
Updated 18 April 2024
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Saudi Cinema Encyclopedia prints first batch of film books

Saudi Cinema Encyclopedia prints first batch of film books
  • Initial run of 22 titles part of plan to release 100 books by the end of the year
  • First set of releases will be available to the public during the 10th Saudi Film Festival, held May 2-9 this year

RIYADH: The Saudi Cinema Encyclopedia, an initiative launched by the Saudi Cinema Association, will kick off with an initial release of its first 22 books, written by an international group of authors, as its first batch of publications.

The project aims to release 100 books in its first year, published by Josour Al-Thaqafah Publishing House.

The first set of releases will be available to the public during the 10th Saudi Film Festival, held May 2-9 this year.

The aim is to establish a periodic program for book production in Arabic to elevate the Kingdom’s film industry writing from amateur to an area known own for its professionalism and specialization.

Abdulwhab Aloryad, editorial director of the Saudi Cinema Encyclopedia and the bulletin of the Saudi Film Festival “Saafa,” told Arab News that the books were published to enhance knowledge among filmmakers.
“This encyclopedia aims to add to what the Saudi Film Festival has started and be an active contributor in Saudi cinema, reinforcing the beliefs of the festival organizers and their efforts to create a competitive film industry on a global level,” he said.

“The series will continue to be an icon in film knowledge, with its central goals of unveiling Saudi and Arab talent in authorship, presenting the latest new books in Arabic, and transferring specialized knowledge in this field from various other languages into Arabic to be available to those interested in the film industry.”

Aloryad said: “Since its launch in 2008, the Saudi Film Festival has believed in its authentic role in cultural and intellectual development aimed at professionals in the film industry. It has focused on the project of knowledge and has driven the wheel of authoring and translation in all fields related to the film industry in order to elevate all stages of the film industry.

“Based on this belief, the festival has adopted a periodic program for book production, presenting more than 50 books in its previous editions that shed light on various aspects of the film industry.”


REVIEW: Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Fallout’ takes gaming adaptations to next level

REVIEW: Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Fallout’ takes gaming adaptations to next level
Updated 18 April 2024
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REVIEW: Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Fallout’ takes gaming adaptations to next level

REVIEW: Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Fallout’ takes gaming adaptations to next level

LONDON: Don’t say it too loud, but we might, finally, have reached the point when good TV adaptations of hit videogames become the norm, rather than the exception. Hot on the heels of “The Last of Us” and “The Witcher” comes “Fallout,” an eight-part series based on the post-apocalyptic world explored in the series of famed Bethesda games.

In an alternate future, with the world devastated by a global nuclear war, a community of wealthy individuals retreats to a series of underground vaults to ride out the fallout. Some 200 years later, wide-eyed vault dweller Lucy (Ella Purnell) is forced to leave the safety of her underground home when her father is kidnapped by raiders from the surface, kickstarting a journey that will not only make her confront the horrors of the unlawful society above, but also sees her meet a revolving door of eccentric (yet equally horrifying) characters along the way. Among these are Maximus (Aaron Moten), a squire in the militaristic Brotherhood of Steel, and The Ghoul (Walton Goggins), a terrifyingly mutated former actor now forging his way as a bounty hunter.

The key to the success of “Fallout” is that your enjoyment of the show is not dependent on whether or not the previous paragraph made any sense to you whatsoever. Rather, creators Graham Wagner and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, along with developers (and executive producers) Christopher Nolan and Lisa Joy have taken the wise decision to create a world wherein knowledge of the wider “Fallout” universe is a bonus, but not a prerequisite. So even if this is your first introduction to the world of Pip-Boys, gulpers and Vaulters, you won’t be penalized, and you certainly won’t feel like you’re missing out.

The world of “Fallout” is a gloriously gritty, bloody and savage one, but it’s also one of razor-sharp humor and fiendish satire — not least thanks to Goggins’ phenomenal turn as The Ghoul. Acerbic and frighteningly violent, The Ghoul is the very embodiment of the savage, unforgiving wasteland, and Goggins has a blast with perhaps the role of his career to date. Lucy is the polar opposite, and Purnell is equally as great as the naïve-yet-capable young woman entirely unprepared for the muck and murder she emerges into. Throw the two together with a razor-sharp, witty script and top-drawer production values and you have a show that’s about as much fun as you can have without a controller of your own.